TOKYO, Dec. 22, Kyodo — Japan’s Cabinet on Thursday approved a draft defense budget for fiscal 2017 that increased spending for a fifth-straight year to improve its ability to respond to North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s rising maritime assertiveness.
The draft budget, which marks a 1.4 percent year-on-year increase to 5.13 trillion yen, also covers the planned establishment of a Marine Corps-like amphibious force at the end of the fiscal year through March 2018 and a new sea-based ballistic missile interceptor.
The total draft defense budget topped 5 trillion yen for a second-straight year as part of 97.45 trillion yen worth of overall government outlays.
For the first time, 14.7 billion yen was allocated for an advanced ship-based ballistic missile interceptor, the Standard Missile-3 Block 2A, which has been co-developed by Japan and the United States.
North Korea this year conducted two nuclear tests and test-launched more than 20 ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions which demand Pyongyang refrain from such activities.
In another bid to strengthen the missile shield, the government earmarked 33.1 billion yen to double the range of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors in a third supplementary budget for fiscal 2016, also approved by the Cabinet on Thursday.
The Defense Ministry initially planned to improve the PAC-3 missile, which a government official said can fly for around 10 to 20 kilometers, in a fiscal 2017 budget, but moved up the plan to deal with North Korea’s long-range missile development.
In view of China’s maritime assertiveness, Japan seeks to beef up its defenses of remote islands, especially in the East China Sea in and around Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan.
It allocated 70.7 billion yen to prepare for deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force units on Miyako Island in Okinawa and Amami-Oshima Island, northeast of Okinawa.
Both islands are not far from the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea which China claims and calls Diaoyu. Chinese government ships have repeatedly entered Japanese waters around the islands, creating tensions.
The Cabinet also secured 8.5 billion yen to acquire 11 AAV-7 amphibious vehicles as the last batch of a plan to procure a total of 52 units for an envisioned GSDF amphibious unit to be established in Nagasaki Prefecture in southwestern Japan.
The government also earmarked 72.8 billion yen to construct a new 3,000-ton submarine with enhanced underwater sound detector and reduced noise level in an effort to strengthen surveillance of nearby waters, including the East China Sea.
The government plans to purchase four V-22 Ospreys for 39.1 billion yen and allocated 34 billion yen for pilot training and other costs in fiscal 2017 as part of a plan for the GSDF to start deploying 17 units of the tilt-rotor transport aircraft in 2019.
Meanwhile, 19.46 billion yen has been earmarked as Japan’s so-called host-nation support, which covers costs for workers, utilities and other items at U.S. military bases. The amount was 19.2 billion yen in fiscal 2016.
The expenditure received attention this year as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said in his presidential campaign that Japan does not pay enough for U.S. security support.
Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012, Japan’s defense budget has been on an uptrend, as the government plans to buy defense equipment under a five-year build-up plan through fiscal 2018.
Among other equipment to be acquired, the ministry plans to buy six F-35 stealth fighters worth 88 billion yen, bringing the number of the jet Japan procures to 22. Japan plans to purchase a total of 42 F-35s. Trump recently pledged to cut the snowballing costs for the airplane which has been jointly developed by the United States, Britain and seven other countries.